My husband and I were on the couch the other night sharing an intimate moment. (Don’t worry if you’re reading this, Dad; it’s PG.) On the couch in our home, my husband and I were cuddling. Kissing. And feeling in love. Then there was a knock at the door. At 9 p.m.
At first I felt fearful. Then worried something had happened. So I stayed frozen on the couch while my husband got up and answered the door. I heard him say, Oh hey, as he stepped outside and closed the door behind him. Must be someone he knows, I thought.
I peeked out the window but couldn’t see anything. I heard a woman’s voice. Good thing I’m not a jealous wife.
My husband was outside for a few minutes, but considering I was already in my pjs, I stayed on the couch. When he came back, he had a tin of cookies and said it was from our neighbors, a husband and wife, who he had just run into at the market.
I was still kind of in shock as I had been bracing myself for the worst. I was thrown off. Confused. They weren’t the first neighbors in our new neighborhood to come and knock on our door, but why had they come at 9 p.m.? Why did they think that was okay? Why was I so bothered?
It took me some time to realize that it was because it felt like an invasion of my privacy. That I was having an intimate moment with my husband, whom I don’t always see much of during the week, and it was interrupted. That I had moved from an urban area to a more rural one to be further away from people. And now, here they were. Knocking at our door. At night. With cookies. Did that mean I’m now supposed to return the gesture?
I was filled with questions.
I’d never received cookies from a neighbor before. Or anything else for that matter. And aside from once when living in an apartment complex, I’ve never even known my neighbors. And moving here I didn’t plan to, either.
My house is where I go to escape others. To invite them over only when I feel I have the energy for their company. And now I find myself in the house we’ve purchased, where we’ll be for at least the next decade, wondering how much I’ll have to engage with my neighbors in order to be considered neighborly.
One of the main reasons I fell in love with this house was because it’s away from people. And all of the lots are private. Or so I thought. But it’s obviously a close-knit neighborhood. Where everyone seems to know everyone else. And only naturally, I fear, will want to know me too. To have casual conversations. To end up in each other’s business. Things I try to avoid.
In most settings, I have a difficult time casually talking with others. Which is probably why small talk is a struggle for me. I never know what to say. It takes so much of my energy to know the right questions to ask and the right information to share. It exhausts me.
I have a difficult time following what others are saying too, especially if it’s a casual topic. Not to mention if there’s background noise or other sensory stimuli. I disconnect and my thoughts drift away. I try to refocus, but the conversation often escapes me.
Everything for me has a purpose. A point. Probably why it’s easier for me to have deep conversations about topics below the surface. I also need to think through my responses before sharing them. To be prepared. Which is why the idea of making small talk with neighbors is so daunting. Now, I’m worried that simply going for a walk will not even be an escape.
On our first walk around the neighborhood, my husband engaged in pleasantries with some of our neighbors (different than the ones who would eventually end up on our doorstep), which will certainly evolve into small talk the longer we live here. On our walk, I couldn’t even look up or make eye contact. Coming off of a meltdown, I wasn’t able to speak. I had my noise-canceling headphones on. I knew I was not approachable. Nor did I care to be.
I’ve since realized I’m going to be that person. That person who sits in her house on the top of the hill and keeps to herself. The one who doesn’t do neighborly things like put potted flowers on the steps leading up to her front door for others to enjoy. The flowers that not one but two neighbors already suggested I get. I told my husband that this was their not-so-subtle way of dropping hints. That I was to decorate. To make it look nice. To keep up appearances.
I thought I avoided neighborly obligations by choosing a neighborhood without a homeowners’ association. Where I’d be forced to do things. To meet people. Because I don’t want to have to be overly friendly with my neighbors.
I’m sure many of them are lovely, but I need my home to be a social break. Where I don’t have to engage. Where I can go for a walk without seeing someone and having to talk. Where I can be outside privately, free of others paying attention to what I’m doing — to where I’m not putting flowers. Where I can relax at night with my husband. Without any interruptions.
I assume that without being neighborly, I’ll be judged. And I realize I may not even be liked. But I’m okay with that.
I have to give people only what I can and in the doses I can give it. I feel I give a lot when and in the ways I can, but it’s not always in the ways others need me to. A concept that has plagued my life.
But I’ve at least learned to do what I need to do for myself. To be in nature. To be regulated. To be true to myself. Neighborly or not.